Janesville teachers push for contract talks
Court ruling overturned parts of Act 10
Janesville teachers are pushing for contract negotiations as the school board tries to sort out the implications of a court ruling overturning parts of a state law that previously restricted collective bargaining.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas ruled that parts of the law, Act 10, were unconstitutional. Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 10 into law in February 2011, which curtailed labor unions' collective bargaining rights for most public employees.
The Janesville Education Association made a special delivery to the school district offices Monday morning. The group brought a letter saying members want to talk over contracts with the superintendent and the school board.
"Everything's on the table," said David Parr, JEA president.
Teachers are bringing custodial workers, food services employees and secretarial aides to the bargaining table, too. Parr said by presenting their needs together, the process should be much more efficient.
"I think the main focus of the contract, which should tell the school board a lot, that we are focusing on the items that are in common to the three of us," Parr said. "So that hopefully will give them a reason to come to the table and talk about it."
The JEA includes about 750 teachers. Adding on the other workers will bring that to 1,200 people involved in the process.
The custodial workers, food services employees and secretarial aides fall under two sections of AFSCME, Parr said.
The school board seems more tentative to start any talks. Janesville School Board President Bill Sodemann said the board has to -- and will -- respond to the union's letter. Teachers are currently contracted under a four-year agreement that ends in June 2013.
"This has been far from a typical year," Sodemann said.
The board wasn't planning to negotiate for at least a few months, so this request pushed up the process. If all of those labor unions came to the table together, Sodemann said certain members of the board would not be able to vote due to conflict of interest.
Sodemann added that there is no specific time frame in which the board has to act in response to the negotiation request, but he said members will take a "normal course of action."
"We're not going to rush it nor are we going to delay things," Sodemann said.
Sodemann said the school board plans to move forward with an employee handbook, a document outlining worker procedures without contracts. He stressed that the board does not want to take action on contracts without a full understanding of the ruling from the district's attorneys.
"We're advised, I think, to be cautious always, to make sure we're doing things right," Sodemann said. "We'll keep involving our employees like we always have been in this process, and we'll see what the final law says."
An attorney with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards said he hasn't heard from other school districts about reopening contracts. He also said he doubts that anything negotiated now will be valid if a stay is issued on the ruling or if Act 10 is reinstated.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council has advised its members to act in their own interests but has not suggested that all unions take certain action in response to the ruling.
Parr said he still believes any final decision on Act 10 will be in line with Colas' ruling, holding up any negotiations drafted up now.
"Whether there is a stay in place or not, this is a great idea to sit down and talk about our problems and how we can solve them together," Parr said.
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